Breaking through the clutter

As a Sponsorship marketer for over twenty years, I’m begrudgingly accepting a lot of what we do as an industry doesn’t really work.  This is difficult to acknowledge, but the average fan does not notice or pay attention to the signs in a stadium, PA announcements, print ads and web banners.  They certainly don’t see your logo mixed in with thirty others on a webpage or poster.  Even the more engaging sponsored video board features (e.g. Kiss cam) can get lost in the noise.   Measurements like impressions are meaningless, if no one is really paying attention.


Each year the Sports Business Journal includes results from Turnkey Research studies on the recall of sponsors for the different major pro sports leagues.  It is always startling to see how many fans are unable to identify the correct sponsors across different endemic categories (e.g. soft drink, beer, credit card, etc.).  If only 34% of MLB fans know Pepsi is the sponsor after 19 years (sponsor since 1997) or 39% for the NFL (since 2002) when there is essentially a 50/50 chance of getting it right (e.g. Coke or Pepsi), then how do any of us have a chance?  Only 24% of MLB fans recalled MasterCard correctly (sponsor since ’97) when the only other choices are Visa, Amex and Discover Card.  This isn’t unique to MLB as the numbers are similar across the board.


Whether you are on the sales or buying side, we all need to figure out how to break through the clutter.  Hopefully on the property side the clutter will be reduced knowing less is more in most sponsors’ eyes.  The pressure to drive revenue makes this difficult, but it is possible.  The real challenge is creating some kind of contextual relevance for the sponsor.  How can a sponsor enhance the fan experience in a meaningful way before, during or after an event?  What can a sponsor do to stand out?


Alaska Airlines (88 Marketing client) attempts to do this in a variety of ways ranging from discounted travel offers to away games or events (e.g. marathons, festivals, etc.), fly away sweepstakes and digital content around team and fan travel.  The airline category provides a slight advantage since travel is often an essential component with sports teams and events for both the participants and fans.  A simple travel offer to an event helps make Alaska relevant, provides value to the participants and enhances the experience.  Following a team’s journey on the road provides compelling content in an organic way for the airline.   For other categories it may not be as simple to find a connection, but with a little creativity it can be done.


Pete’s Coffee developed an impressive retail campaign the last two seasons as a sponsor of the Golden State Warriors.  It included the creation of a special “Warriors Grounds” coffee blend, which plays off the Warriors mantra (i.e. Warriors Ground).  Warriors Grounds was available at Pete’s Bay Area locations along with local grocers for a limited time.  Five percent of sales went to Warriors Hoops for Kids program.  Pete’s also developed ‘Warriors Wednesdays’ where customers receive a free coffee with a purchase of a baked good when they visit a local Pete’s location and wear Warriors gear.  To help generate buzz and earned media, Warriors All-Star forward Draymond Green worked as a Barista for a day. This is a great example of a retail driver and effective use of marks.  Coffee doesn’t necessarily go with basketball, but Warriors fans know Pete’s is a sponsor.  


Last week’s unbelievable NCAA men’s championship basketball telecast showcased a simple yet brilliant sponsorship following the game as the Villanova Wildcats cut down the nets.  The segment was presented by Werner ladders, which featured great product placement, logo ID, and a live mention.  Some purists may say this is over commercialization, but kudos to the marketers who put this break through the clutter moment together.  This was also supported with a consumer sweepstakes to win a replica championship ladder and content on  Sometimes the best things are the most obvious.  Sponsorships may sometimes be held to a higher standard, but with a little creativity it can help take a brand to new heights.